As graduation date from university was drawing near, I felt more and more overwhelmed about future and responsibilities. Being a millennial myself, I found the solution in removing myself from the problem as much as I could, which meant traveling to Asia for a couple of months. Mindfulness was the term thrown around in daily conversations wherever I went back home, so I thought I could learn about the concept at one of its sources.
While I was staying in Japan, I got introduced to the practice of mindfulness by regularly meditating with a Zen monk. One day, after another session in an idyllic forest on a mountain in Kyoto, we took a walk together to the train station. I still remember his words before we parted ways. We were in the middle of a conversation about world religions, science and all other tools people choose to understand themselves. I somehow mentioned to him that I was going to leave my backpacking trip in a month, which indicated I had to face reality soon. As a reaction, he looked at me playfully, as if he wanted to point out to the hidden message of our previous conversation. “What reality? You are the one designing it.”
It can be extremely stressful to take the journey of understanding yourself and who you are ought to be. Bombarded by societal influences and self-imposed constraints, deciphering the authenticity of our needs might seem impossible. It can be also very scary to admit our passions and needs to ourselves. Despite how incessant and overwhelming this period feels, clouds of insecurities can clear up. With introspection and selfless nurturing, it will be possible to unleash your best potential that isn’t apparent at first sight.
Whenever you have to make a decision, especially one that alters your future, you can’t help but be influenced by your identifiers. These are your thoughts occupying your mind, masked as fear of judgment, debts, and regrets. They are also the self-imposed standards concerning others. For example, it is hard not to feel trapped by your ethnicity, right or wrong lessons you’ve learned as a kid, insecurities that you carefully painted as ornaments onto your facade.
When we feel trapped by circumstances, it gets harder to deny the illusion of a limited self. Our minds rationalize a state of helplessness to protect us from taking risks from the uncertainty of the future. A variety of factors might exacerbate this feeling. You might be feeling pressured by your parents who hope you should be as successful as your siblings or maybe because they put all their savings aside for your education. Otherwise, you might feel uncomfortable during conversations with peers and everyone around you seems to have figured it all out. They might sound very confident about what industry they want to work for and what schools they will apply.
Alternative Take on the Concept of Selfhood
Social psychologists explain that our brain creates a sense of self that fits into our cognitive fallacies to construct a “self-narrative”. Through introspection, we try to account for how we got to where we are and what we are supposed to do with the rest of our lives. In other words, our brain nitpicks a couple of instances that could have potentially made you who you are. Besides, as research has shown, your brain actively alters your memories while it tries to recall them.
Knowing that you are not who you think you remember to be could easily drive some to despair. After all, there is no certain way to acquire the truth about your past and how you constructed your values and ideas. So, that’s the point of holding on to them?
Western psychologists often describe self by conceptualizing aspects of your past and future, while relating them to others. In this view, selfhood is limiting and binary. Alternatively, Taoists view that the aspect of your selfhood that you can verbalize and conceptualize is only representing you in a limited way. According to this philosophy, the self is boundless, it cannot be described with words. You are both your actions as well as your inactions.
The scope of someone reaches far beyond how we name characteristics, behaviours or aspirations. When someone defines you in words, they don’t truly depict your essence. They cannot accurately describe you. In fact, they just produce sounds that generalize actions or observations. Even though descriptions can be grounding points, which help us introduce ourselves to others, it is useful to keep in mind that words remain limited in capturing you.
If we realize that we shape our reality, then we can grasp the arbitrariness of this self-narrative. We have the power to choose the colours we put on our palette, mix them and apply them any way we want to. Why not paint a picture to better both our and others’ lives?